An emergency meeting of the Florida State Board of Education is scheduled for Aug. 17 to consider school districts' compliance in allowing parents to determine whether or not their children wear masks to school — and it appears likely that some districts will face financial penalties for their mask policies.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a conservative Republican, believes that parents should retain full decision-making authority over whether or not their children wear masks in school and has taken action to block Florida schools from infringing on parental rights by mandating mask requirements.
The meeting involves considering school districts' compliance with the state's Parents' Bill of Rights and a Florida Department of Health Emergency Rule. The Department of Health emergency rule conforms to an executive order issued late last month by DeSantis:
This emergency rule conforms to Executive Order Number 21-175, which ordered the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Department ofEducation to ensure safety protocols for controlling the spread of COVID-19 in schools that (1) do not violate Floridians' constitutional freedoms; (2) do not violate parents' rights under Florida law to make health care decisions for their minor children; and (3) protect children with disabilities or health conditions who would be harmed by certain protocols, such as face masking requirements. The order, which is incorporated by reference, directs that any COVID-19 mitigation actions taken by school districts comply with the Parents' Bill of Rights, and "protect parents' right to make decisions regarding masking of their children in relation to COVID-19."
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran recently sent letters to the superintendents and school board chairs of Leon County Schools, Broward County Schools, and Alachua County Schools, saying that he was "immediately initiating an investigation of non-compliance with rules adopted by the Florida Department of Health and the Florida State Board of Education on August 6, 2021."
In each letter, Corcoran demanded a written response detailing how the district is complying with the Florida Department of Health rule and warning of financial consequences for non-compliance.
"There is no room for error or leniency when it comes to ensuring compliance with policies that allow parents and guardians to make health and educational choices for their children," Corcoran wrote.
"Depending on the facts presented, I may recommend to the State Board of Education that the Department withhold funds in an amount equal to the salaries for the Superintendent and all the members of the School Board," he warned.
During a phone call DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw informed TheBlaze that if this financial action is taken, the school officials would either lose their salaries or they would need to siphon other district funds in order to pay themselves.
Pushaw said that she expects Corcoran to find Alachua and Broward counties in violation, but noted that Leon County has altered its policy and is no longer represents a concern.
Alachua County Public Schools has an opt-out option that requires that the exemption form "be signed by a licensed medical doctor, a licensed osteopathic physician or a licensed advanced registered nurse practitioner."
Broward County Public Schools' masking policy does not appear to allow parents to simply opt-out of the masking requirement either.
"As a result of today's School Board vote, face coverings will continue to be mandatory, based on School Board Policy 2170, for students, staff and visitors at all District schools and facilities. Requests to opt out of this requirement will be considered due to medical need, Individual Education Plans (IEP) or Section 504 accommodations as currently allowed in the policy," according to the Broward County Public Schools website.
Leon County will allow parents to opt their children out of a mask requirement, though the policy was previously going to require a doctor's note, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Pushaw told TheBlaze that last year masks were optional in 40% of schools, while 60% had mask mandates.
"We compared mask mandate and mask optional schools, we found no statistically significant difference ... in terms of COVID prevalence over the school year," she said.